Three cheers for the Prince Charming and the Princess Starlight! OK, maybe I’m working backwards, but at least that got your attention. Sorry if I’ve ruined the ending for you, by the way; but if that was a surprise then maybe you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a computer by yourself. And since when did the Princess Crystal become the Princess Starlight? It’s true that at just 2 hours and 5 minutes the cast fairly whizz through the show – maybe it’s the Starlight Express version? Anyway, here goes: Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray!… I’m sure we didn’t get a third cheer last night, but by then Mrs Chrisparkle and I had each polished off two large Shirazes, so it’s possible I am mistaken.
Better than all the presents, all the turkey, all the mince pies, and all the tedious films on TV, Christmas doesn’t get better than a great panto. I love pantos. In fact, now that I have made out my spreadsheet of all the shows I’ve ever seen, I can confirm that in my 48 years of theatregoing I have now seen 21 pantos, only 3 of which were when I was a kid! Those 60s/70s pantos were complete magic to me, especially as they were at the London Palladium, which the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle always instilled in me was The Most Important Theatre In The World (and you didn’t argue with her!) So it’s great to see the tradition continuing today in splendid style and in the hands of some very expert practitioners.
This year’s Qdos Panto at the Royal and Derngate is Cinderella; “the greatest pantomime of them all” boasts the programme. Not entirely sure that’s based on a Yougov poll, I suspect Jack and Dick would have something to say about that. And what about Abanazar? (Bless you). It is, nevertheless, a great show – lavishly mounted with fantastic sets, beautiful and funny costumes (Cinderella’s is beautiful, the Ugly Sisters’ are funny, not the other way round), well-staged musical numbers, many funny set pieces, and a talented and committed cast. Even so, I see David Cameron’s austerity society has reached Hardup Hall – Baron Hardup has been cut! Yes, this panto has no elderly, bumbling, stony broke father figure to make sense of the fact that Cinderella has to do all the hard work and they don’t employ a proper Downton-style staff. There’s no sense of poverty at Hardup Hall – it could just as easily be Money Manor or Cash Castle. Hashtag Just Saying.
John Partridge leads the team as Prince Charming, an actor I have admired enormously ever since I saw him as Best Zach Ever in A Chorus Line. He has great command of the stage and has a glint in his eye that says let’s have some fun with this, but not to the detriment of the story. For while he is most definitely at home camping up the Princey character something rotten in the early part of the show, once he has found his Princess Starlight, he plays the loving romantic lead absolutely straight (no pun intended; well maybe a little pun). His voice is spot on and his energy contagious. You may have heard that he has a duet with Alison Jiear (the Fairy Godmother) that stuns you with its power and beauty. For once, you can believe the hype – that duet is very very good indeed.
He swaps identity with Dandini (as you do), in the shape of Sid Sloane from CBeebies, whom we saw in Sheffield’s Sleeping Beauty four years ago. He has a natural ability to get the kids on his side, and always keeps the show moving at a fun pace. Kudos to him (or should that be Qdos?) for getting through the “a shoe” routine with an immaculately straight face. Danny Posthill was our Buttons; despite his success on Britain’s Got Talent he was new to us (if you are my regular reader, hello again, and you’ll know we don’t see much TV – we’re always at the theatre) but he was full of fun and also a great hit with the kids. I really enjoyed his great sulk when Cinderella ditched him for the Prince. He did some excellent impersonations – his John Bishop in particular was absolutely perfect; and when he brought the kids up on the stage for a rendition of Old MacDonald, you could see how overwhelmingly happy they all were. He also trades a lot of joshing banter with Mr Partridge – hard to tell how much of it was scripted or not, but it certainly created a lot of good humoured corpsing. Alison Jiear – my comment heretofore regarding Britain’s Got Talent applies – makes a very traditional Fairy Godmother. In other Cinderellas I have seen, the FG has some kind of gimmick – Sheffield 2012 northern and cack-handed; Northampton 2012 worldly-wise and knowing; and Kettering 2011 Christine Hamilton (say no more). But Ms Jiear looks and sounds like a most respectable and personable fairy, without a foible in the world; she sings like a dream and exudes goodness wherever she goes. A paragon of a fairy.
I really enjoyed Rachel Flynn’s performance as Cinderella; she’s very bright and charming, sings beautifully and invests the character with genuine emotion, and quite a bit of humour too. Also, crystal slippers look great on her. I absolutely loved the scene between her, Princey and Buttons when they were singing on the wall; beautifully timed humour and slapstick whilst still singing to perfection – that sure takes some doing. Ben Stock and Bobby Delaney play the Ugly Sisters as really funny grotesques; they carry off their wonderfully awful costumes with great aplomb and play out their (understandably) sex-starved fantasies with just sufficient innocence to keep it decent. The scene where the Ugly Sisters forced Cinderella to tear up her invitation to the ball was so well done that I forgot myself and shouted out to Cinderella not to do it – much to Mrs C’s chagrin. The singing and dancing ensemble look, sound and move great – often with nicely pitched comic overtones – and the little babes from the Mayhew School of Dance were full of attitude and charisma and did a great job.
Spare a thought for the sound engineer (Sam Poulton I believe), whom I bumped into after the show and who described himself as “thoroughly knackered” (or words to that effect). No live musicians means all the music and sound effects are at the beck and call of his knobs, if you’ll pardon the expression. Over 160 sound cues I think he said. Well there wouldn’t be a show without you, and it all worked seamlessly – so well done to you, sir.
What’s not to love? Great fun – we both thought it was among the best pantos we’ve ever seen. Great production values and some terrific performances. Fun for everyone. On until 3rd January, so you’d better get booking rapido.